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Music has always had the ability to inspire and heal wounds, and now many songs are taking on a new meaning as teachers and students alike face uncertainty. Pieces with universal themes of strength and hope are particularly helpful during such times of challenge.
This year Pepper’s Editors’ Choice selections for pop, stage and screen include a number of inspiring choral pieces with a modern feel and engaging messages that should resonate with students. Here is a look at 16 compositions on that list:
These songs all share important messages for students struggling with their mental health or challenging life events:
Rainbow (arr. Mark Brymer and arr. Cristi Cary Miller) – This piece is the final song on Kacey Musgraves’ album Golden Hour, which won Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards. Musgraves recorded this song after her grandmother’s death since it was one of her grandmother’s favorites. It found new life when Musgraves performed it during the One World: Together at Home benefit concert in April, when it was the most downloaded song of the night. This song offers comfort amid seemingly hopeless situations: “There’s always been a rainbow hanging over your head.”
You Will Be Found – This song from the Tony award-winning Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen has a powerful message for young people who are feeling like they don’t have a place in the world. The musical has had such an impact that the show’s production company relies on a mental health team to respond to the flood of messages on its social media accounts.
Found/Tonight – This choral piece combines elements of You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hansen with The Story of Tonight from Hamilton. The mash-up originally went viral on YouTube when Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt performed it.
Don’t Give Up on Me (arr. Andy Beck and arr. Mac Huff) – The 2019 movie Five Feet Apart featured this song by Andy Grammer. The movie has a storyline that may be hauntingly familiar in recent times. In it, a young couple with cystic fibrosis must stay several feet apart at all times to guard their health. The song talks about standing by someone no matter what.
Secret for the Mad – British YouTuber Dodie wrote this song for a friend who was going through a rough time. She later released a book with a similar title. The piece includes compelling lyrics such as, “There will be a day when you’ll say you’re okay and mean it.”
These songs are upbeat and have lots of positive energy:
Be Nice – The original version of this piece was written by songwriter Adam Friedman, who pitched it to will.i.am on the competition television show Songland. The song was picked as the winner, and then recorded by Black Eyed Peas and Snoop Dogg. The fun and catchy lyrics urge listeners to “be different; be nice.”
Born to be Brave – This upbeat song is from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The empowering refrain is uplifting and encouraging with the lyrics, “I know who I am inside, and I won’t apologize.”
A Million Dreams – The Greatest Showman was the first film that songwriting duo Justin Paul and Benj Pasek wrote for. They began crafting music for the movie many months before working on La La Land. Pasek says the movie centers on the idea that it’s universally appealing to believe the world can be what you want it to be rather than having to accept it for what it is. A Million Dreams captures this vision, and now there’s a new SSA arrangement of the song available in addition to other voicings.
This Is Me – Another smash hit song from The Greatest Showman now has a new a cappella version. This song has had a strong life outside of the movie and has been adopted by many causes. Pasek says the song defined much of the film since it focuses on the need to be accepted.
I See Stars – The musical Mean Girls features this song as its finale number. It’s performed when the characters in the show all accept each other. “You’re all stars.”
I Just Wanna Shine – This energetic piece from Fitz and The Tantrums is full of hope and exuberant joy, and has been featured on a Walmart commercial. The official video for the song follows a young girl who likes to skateboard and breakdance. “Today’s gonna be my day.”
There’s a Hero – Singer Billy Gilman released this song about twenty years ago, but the message may be more important now than ever. The piece celebrates everyday heroes and encourages everyone to step up and do their part.
These songs have long been a source of strength and comfort, and now they continue to provide encouragement:
True Colors – Cyndi Lauper’s Grammy award-winning song from the 1980s has a new SSA arrangement. The original piece that topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart was written by songwriters Bill Steinberg and Tom Kelly. The verse “I see your true colors shining through” was pulled from a verse Steinberg had written for his mother. Lauper’s whispery performance of the song gave it a long life.
What a Wonderful World – A new SATB arrangement of this song is inspired by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version and can be sung a cappella or with piano, ukulele or guitar. The original song that everyone knows was first recorded by Louis Armstrong in the 1960s and decades later was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
When You Believe – This beautiful song was composed by Stephen Schwartz for the 1998 animated movie The Prince of Egypt. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The new choral arrangement of this piece includes an optional string orchestra and percussion accompaniment.
You’ll Never Walk Alone (with Climb Ev’ry Mountain) – This arrangement combines two Rodgers and Hammerstein pieces: You’ll Never Walk Alone is from the 1945 musical Carousel and Climb Ev’ry Mountain is from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music. This arrangement is heartwarming in the way it brings together the lyrics from both pieces. There are several arrangement options available, including a new TTBB version.
There are many more new pieces available for the next school year. For a complete look at this year’s Editors’ Choice choral selections, click here.